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In today’s small business session I took cold calling off the table. Yes. Death be to the dastardly cold call. In lieu of the ever dreaded cold call I suggested that my client think of marketing her brand as “prospecting”.  The word feels better and with that better feeling produces more confidence.

In “prospecting” you will still call clients to explore potential leads. The difference is that you will have worked hard in strengthening your brand and expanding your network. Through this activity you will find potential clients with less effort. This will require more behind the scenes work.  It will require you, the small business owner, to know everything that sets you apart from your competition; know what solutions you offer and what other solutions are available.  And it will require you to have some knowledge of your prospective lead and what makes them special.

Doing your homework will not only make you feel better prepared but it will go along way in building rapport with your potential new client!

Do you have any suggestions on effective methods of prospecting?


Your Real Brand Ambassadors Are Not Who You Think

Who are your brand ambassadors? If you think it is your sales people you, my friend, are dead wrong.

Let me tell you a little story about a house renovation project. These are the things that nightmares and divorce decrees are made of. But I don’t think it is because of the reasons generally brought to mind.  It’s not really about the arguing over how to do things, different tastes/styles, or money. I think it is more about the fact that everything in a renovation takes twice as long and costs twice as much as what you planned. It is in these moments of contractors slapping you with a 50% overage on an estimate, incorrectly designed cabinets, and “crown molding costs WHAT a square foot” that you and your partner find ways look the other way during personal meltdowns. Couples that have gone through a renovation can come out the other side with a better understanding of how their partner handles stressful events and how they themselves handle their partners reaction to the stressor.

Our renovation project has been a work in progress for over a year. And now in the final 60 day window we are having a problem getting the kitchen island to look like what we thought it was going to look like. Part of the problem developed when our original sales person was let go and no one at the company contacted us. After days of not hearing anything we had to start over with a new sales person and their interpretation of our concept.  Since we had kept all the documentation and the new sales person had our file, we believed we were still on track.   But lo and behold, there was a miscommunication on the design of the island which is now costing more money and holding up the rest of the project.

Things got even more botched when the team sent to fix the island was not the original team on the cabinet job.
My thoughts on how to fix the island were communicated to the sales person, but lost in translation to the production team. When the installer showed up he did not have any concept of what we were wanting nor did he have proper materials to complete the job. This in turn meant that the counter top person could not do their job that day, and as a contractor lost a day’s pay.

And boy does it turn into the shell swapping blame game from there.  The installer, feeling like an idiot, begins trying to explain that the communication at the company is nonexistent and that it is not his fault. When this happens on a consistent basis the person on the front line ends up trashing the team because they feel resentful for being in this type of predicament. Our guy was pretty diplomatic, but it was easy to see that he was left in the dark and therefore left holding the bag when the customer was unhappy.

Proper communication between sales and production would have solved this and kept the company’s reputation intact. All too often a sales force is separated from a delivery team either by physical location or lack of interest.  Sales people have been made to feel like they rule the roost – and at times they should.  If your team doesn’t believe in your company enough to be able to close deals then your company will suffer.  That being said, having a stellar sales force doesn’t mean a damn thing if you fall down on the delivery.  Typically, your delivery takes place outside of the sales floor with an installer, an IT professional, a maintenance person, etc.  THEY are your company’s reputation.  Not the slick sales person.

That story I watched unfold in my half-complete kitchen is the same thing I have witnessed time and time again in the apartment industry.  Leasing agents deliver a slick bells and whistles show stopping pitch only to have things fall apart on the delivery either because the apartment wasn’t pristine or because it wasn’t delivered on time.  This becomes a high hurdle to jump and it adds to the anecdotes we love to tell others and post on review sites.

During my career in the housing industry what made me appear successful to upper management was my ability to connect with people and close deals. What actually made me successful is how I worked hard to develop strong relationships with my maintenance team.  I knew how to negotiate a quick move in, the time it would take to turn a trashed apartment, and how to buy time for work order completion.  I also knew that through the time and attention I devoted to understanding my maintenance team they would help me out.  In the end if I made a mistaken undeliverable promise they’d find a way to get it done or at the very least, back me up instead of trashing the company.

For me, maintenance people are the heart and soul of the operation.  They are the last person in line with the sales promise and the first person in line when the customer is unhappy. Shouldn’t the people delivering your product feel like you’ve got their back? Doesn’t your customer deserve that?

Marketing is a Battlefield: A Review of Marketing Warfare, by Authors Al Ries & Jack Trout

Ries, Al & Jack Trout. (2006). Marketing Warfare 20th Anniversary Edition. New York, Ny: McGraw-Hill. 217 pages. List price $20.01,

Let me begin by mimicking the intro to the book, Marketing Warfare, “Marketing is War” (p. 1). I implore, is marketing really war? I think not. Of course, if you are responsible for the profits of a multimillion dollar company or the life savings of the local mom and pop, I’m sure you feel differently. According to the authors if you don’t, then you are doing it wrong. The Al Ries and Jack Trout definition of marketing includes a call to action for businesses to engage in a paradigm shift from customer-oriented thinking to competitor-oriented thinking. Through this definition success is defined as “strategy and tactics that win the battle in the marketplace” (p. 7). Their leader in this thought process? General, Karl von Clausewitz.

If you read my review of the authors’ first book, Positioning, you already know my “position” towards their writing style. They again rise to the occasion. When I’m reading prose by Ries and Trout it conjures up images of smoking jackets, scotch, and the click-clack of some Gal Friday fetching the this-and-that to help run the engine of the ol’ boys club. I suppose I should cut them some slack, the first printing of the book was in the 1980s when the business world was trying to adjust their old school mindset amidst the backdrop of rapidly rising technology.

So who is their torchbearer, Karl von Clausewitz? According to Ries and Trout Clausewitz’s military strategy book, On War, is the greatest marketing book ever penned. However, principles of Marketing Warfare may be based on an incorrect translation of Clausewitz’s ideas. According to the article, Everything you know about Clausewitz is Wrong, the translation of the General’s definition of war as “the continuation of policy by other means” is incorrect. The author, James R. Holmes, insists that “by” should have been translated as “with”. This small change denotes that the practices of democracy and negotiation should be taking place despite what is happening on the battlefield. The translation of “by” implies that at unresolved conflict, all communication is dropped other than those pertaining to weaponry and violence (Holmes, 2014).

The overall premise of, Marketing Warfare, is built on a superficial understanding of translations of Clausewitz’s ideas. According to an editorial on the Clausewitz Homepage website, “In general, just as war is a particular manifestation or subset of politics, business analogs to war are subsets of a larger phenomenon—thus, business as a whole is properly compared to politics, not war” (

Resting on the more aggressive interpretation of Clausewitz’s words, the main principle of the book, Marketing Warfare, can be divided into four subcategories under the “strategic square”: Defense, Offense, Flanking, and Guerrilla (p. 9). The authors argue that only market leaders should engage in the principles of defensive marketing. Offense is best used by number two companies, flanking should be utilized by small companies, and guerrilla tactics are reserved for regional or local businesses.

The bulk of the book is devoted to the strategic square. It also includes what I would call a few “buy in” chapters where Ries and Trout attempt to get the reader amped up on the idea of marketing as war. These chapters include a section devoted to their philosophy, an analysis of 2500 years of war, and sections devoted to military maneuvering such as force, defensive strategies, the battleground and competition. The book also includes four mini case studies on how industries in the private sector have fared in the “battleground”.

In looking at the strategic square, it is easy to see how they apply the principles to for- profit companies. But I wonder if the same principles can be applied to the nonprofit sector? To begin, let’s look at Defense Marketing. In Defense Marketing the authors suggest organizations practice defense in an offensive way that protects their share of the market. They can do this by attacking themselves by way of introducing new products that replace their old lines. Or, they can block strong competitors by introducing similar products in a swift manner before the competitor establishes it with the consumer. This is recommended only for number one organizations.

In the context of the nonprofit world, United Way is a clear leader. According to a December 2014 article, The United Way was the number one largest charity in America with over $4 billion in revenue and 1,300 affiliates (Barrett, 2014). The United Way website explains that it was founded in 1887 in the spirit of several religions to promote 10 health and welfare related organizations ( Although we cannot see blocking moves they have leveraged against other nonprofits, it is evident that they are fiercely defending their share of the market. This point becomes clear when you learn that much of their fundraising is in the form of automatic payroll deductions. This is a hard move to beat.

The number two in nonprofits according to the Forbes list, The Salvation Army, with its own church, over $4 billion in revenue and a presence in over 120 countries (Barrett, 2014). What differentiates their strategy from The United Way? According to Ries and Trout, the tactics of the defense and the offense look similar on the outside. The difference lies in the strength of the number two in sustaining an attack on the leaders market share. One way to do this is to create a leading offer where the leader has none. Perhaps this is the force behind The Salvation Army church since both The Salvation Army and The United Way operate in the same category in the same city.

The third part of the strategic square discuss ways small organizations can engage in Flanking tactics. In Flanking Marketing the authors suggest that organizations try to capture an “uncontested” part of the market in a way that is unsuspected. The organization must then stay true to that mission or product and should not reallocate resources after success.

With over 7,000 posts and approximately $5 million in revenue, the Veterans of Foreign Wars is small in comparison to the previous two examples ( What has kept this organization going for 100 years? Perhaps it is entry into the nonprofit world via a select category of services for those that served the country. They also draw proceeds off their bar sales which is a major distinguishing feature from other nonprofits.

The fourth part of the strategic square is confined to local or regional organizations. Principles of Guerilla Marketing include defending a small segment of the market and never getting too big for ones britches. Employing members of a small organization with a foot soldier mentality means that the organization stays on the pulse of the consumer and marketplace. This calls to mind our very own Southeast Missouri State University. As a small but growing institution they obviously cannot compete with the Ivy Leagues or Big 10s of the world. What they can do is leverage their affordability and willingness to remain in the trenches of distance learning to attract regional students who cannot afford or cannot attend larger universities. With emphasis on access and regional competitiveness as part of their mission and vision statements it appears that is how the University plans to stake out its territory (

Whether you agree with the Ries and Trout aggressive view of Clausewitz words, or whether you believe that marketing is innocuous, Marketing Warfare, is written in a fashion that will provide some take-away. At the very least it helps the reader understand the importance of knowing how an organization’s place in the market, or size of market share, relates to ways of engaging in customized marketing to wage war on “the enemy”. Perhaps Pat Benatar had it all wrong? It’s not love as a battlefield, Marketing is a Battlefield.


Barrett, William P. The Largest Charities in America. Dec. 10, 2014

Clausewitz Homepage website. Editorial, n.d.

Holmes, James R. The Diplomat website. Everything You Know About Clausewitz is Wrong. Nov. 12, 2014

Ries, Al & Jack Trout. (2006). Marketing Warfare 20th Anniversary Edition. New York, Ny: McGraw-Hill.

Southeast Missouri State University website. 2014 Strategic Plan: Mission Statement, Vision, Values Statement and Priorities. n.d.

United Way website. History, n.d.

Veterans of Foreign Wars website.

Duck, Duck, Goose: A Review of the Book Positioning, by Authors Al Ries & Jack Trout

Ries, Al & Jack Trout. (2001). Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind. New York, Ny: McGraw-Hill. 213 pages. List price $14.95
This is a reprint of the first release in 1981.
Reviewed by Brandi L. Holder

According to authors Al Ries and Jack Trout, “Positioning is not what you do to a product. Positioning is what you do to the mind of the prospects” (p. 2). At its inception, Positioning was a revolutionary concept, which Ries and Trout point out often with back patting phrases throughout the book. Nevertheless, to someone with a superficial, or even an intermediary understanding, it is a revelation in the way of thinking about marketing. Understanding consumer needs and attitudes is an integral part of marketing and those with an advanced understanding would already understand the concept (one would hope anyway).

Before buying into the premise of a new concept one should question, who are the authors and how are they qualified to write this book? According to Al Ries’s website, he started to receive notoriety in his field in 1972. This recognition began with a series of articles about the concept of Positioning. The idea of positioning became popular enough that it turned into a book co-authored by Jack Trout. The website features articles and information on numerous publications. It is informative and conveys the tone that Al and his partner Laura, are experts in the field (without the overture of arrogance). His bio makes no mention of his credentials. (

Jack Trout’s website stands in complete contrast to Al’s. Jack’s bio feels forced and gives the impression that it was penned by him. Interestingly enough, it has the same back patting phraseology that liters the Positioning book itself. From the bio it appears that Positioning was the jump off point for Jacks career as well. He has several publications listed and mentions that he has over 40 years of experience in his field. An interesting note is about his team list, of the 35 employees on his team only one is a woman. This fact becomes especially important when reading that he works with the government in a role whereby he claims to “sell America”. How is it that Jack can work such an advisory role, when it appears that he does not embrace the principles of a representative workforce ( This appears to be in direct violation of Executive Order 11246 which establishes equal opportunity employment standards for contractors.

As a side note, both authors were contacted in reference to this review. Al responded with some detail about the Positioning concept and an explanation that both authors were equally involved. Jack’s secretary responded that “we just haven’t been approached by many women”. It should also be noted that both Al and Jack claim to be the originator of the idea of positioning as a marketing strategy. However, in a reprinting of another book they co-author, Marketing Warfare, Jack claims to be the originator of the Positioning concept.

The book itself is a simple read. It has short chapters and the digestible material takes the reader on a journey through the who, what, how and why that is Positioning. It can be broken down into sections comprised of:
• what is positioning
• the role of the over communicated society
• leading brands and position to relative to competition
• branding and names
• line extension
• several chapters devoted to mini case studies
Overall it appears as though the authors invite the reader to gain an understanding of what positioning is all about, how it affects your seat next to the competition, and how you can leverage your brand name and your position in the overarching sea of similar products and claims. The authors say, positioning should come before the 4P’s (product, place, promotion & price) so that the 4P’s are maximized.

Simply put, positioning requires a brand to “get there” first in the prospects mind. Just like in duck, duck, goose. You definitely want to be first. There is an argument for being second. But nobody wants to be the goose. The authors cite that the strategy of those first in line should do everything they can to defend their number one spot. They do this not by proclaiming to be number one, but by selling value to the prospect.

In contrast, the authors argue that in some cases by pointing out that a brand is second, or different in some way, it creates its own position in the prospects mind. Or perhaps it fills a “creneau” or a niche in what the authors call “glittering generalities” in our over communicated world (p. 7). This will allow a secondary brand to become first in the mind of the prospect for a given feature. The authors call this a repositioning strategy whereby a secondary brand can expose some weakness in a brand leader. The weakness can be exploited to become a strong feature for the secondary brand.

When it comes to a product’s name, the authors claim that is the most important aspect of marketing. In their view, the perception of quality of a brand has as much, or more to do with the name than any other aspect. Strong names are almost “generic” but descriptive, and can evolve with the language of the day while surviving through negative connotations. Also names should not be initials unless it rolls off the tongue and shortens the syllables. This seems to be a tall order and open to differing opinion. For example, they produce the names Elmer and Hubert as examples of “losers”. Then there is the section where the authors discuss “Negro” vs. “Colored” vs. “Black” whereas the latter allows the person to develop a sense of “pride” more than the former and “Colored”, as they say in the book, does not create a sense of contrast. This section should be revamped to explore the deeper meaning they are trying to achieve, or be deleted. The superficiality of the section feels ostentatious and awkward.

Ries and Trout claim that once a name is established, a way of ruining it is by attaching other products to it. This is what they refer to as line extension. An example the authors give is the DieHard battery vs the JC Penney battery. The logic is that DieHard claims a stronger position in the mind because the name is strong and people have associated it with a battery. The JC Penney battery may be just as good, but when people think of JC Penney they do not think of batteries. JC Penneys sells too many products for the prospect to differentiate them as quality battery makers. This logic also applies to brands that try to capitalize on success by introducing other products under the same name. The authors claim that this weakens the name and that each product should have its own name so that it has the opportunity to grab a slice of the prospects mind. In essence, what they are saying is that people tend to be categorical in their minds rather than brand loyal across categories.

My chief complaint with the book is its lack of up to date examples from its original 1981 publish date. I understand that it is a “classic” marketing book. But to what end do the authors want to take that “position”? As a stale and dusty has-been; relegated to the role of required reading to droves of students asking what the heck is “Madison Avenue” or a facsimile machine? Or as an example to be held up that can transcend the use of historical examples into contemporary internet driven marketing. I question how many of my fellow students even know what a facsimile machine is… but I digress. Without droning endlessly, I want to state how the lack of contemporary examples could be the lynch pin for eternal damnation to life on the shelf as a “classic”… a thing to own, but not to read.

I should stress that it is not all rotten tomatoes. The concepts are relevant. I enjoyed the easy read. Without beating the aforementioned lack of contemporary examples in to the ground, if nothing else perhaps it could include a section devoted to the social internet of things. The historical examples are great but the outdated language detracts from the message. It is what it is… a “pitch” or narrative of why you should buy into the concept of “Positioning” as a way of marketing. That’s my position anyway.

I’d love to hear yours.